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In 1979 I first heard the song "Chuck E's in Love" with its slightly jazzy, blues style, bebop undertone, strong syncopation, twanging country-like bass guitar and a compelling lyric with a touch of folk that broke all the moulds that punk, pop and disco were trying to shape at the time. It was sung by a woman with a less than perfect voice but incredible range, agility of tones and volumes of style that made up for any imperfections. This is singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, and her first album - unoriginally entitled "Rickie Lee Jones" - is still a favourite of mine, and here's why.
If you listen to this album from start to finish, you won't be the bit surprised that it got Grammy nominations for Best Album, Best Pop Vocal and Best Rock Vocal and won her a Grammy for Best New Artist. This is an album that just doesn't grow old. Jones' style is fresh and amazingly unique. You may not be able to understand every single word she's singing, but you'll certainly be hanging on every note. This is not an easy-listening pop album - it will wake you up, shake you up as well as cool you down and ease you out.
What do I mean by that? Well, for instance she gives you some cool, folksy ballads that are so packed with emotion they almost cry from the disk, with lyrics like: "Broken like valiums and chumps in the rain/ That cry and quiver/ When a blue horizon is sleeping in the station/ With a ticket for a train/ Surely mine will deliver me there." (Night Train). And then she hands you something upbeat and fun with "Danny's All-Star Joint" with the song's narrator telling us that it's "... got a juke box that goes doyt-doyt..." and that he/she comes "... around struttin' my luck in my shoop coupe...".
Certainly the song that introduced her to me - "Chuck E's in Love" is a special accomplishment that borders on genius. There are about three different rhythms and tempo speed used, with a key change or two for good measure (pun intended). What makes it even more endearing is that it has a twist in the end of the storytelling lyric. Its as if Rickie has given us a short story in only a few minutes of play time. No wonder this charming song was a hit and captured my heart.
Rickie also mixes up her mixing in these songs. Sometimes she's alone with her unusual voice and solo piano, and another time she's got the brass section turned up to full. Then she has a song where she throws in some synthesisers and another with guitars or even an orchestra. Nothing is taken for granted and nothing is monotone or complacent.
What I really like about this album is that as much as I enjoyed it when I first heard it in the late 70s, I enjoy it equally as well today. There's nothing dated in her style and while the term timeless' sounds like it would better apply to some stodgy old music our grandparents listened to, this collection of songs sounds like it could have as easily been released yesterday and not almost 28 years ago! What's more - she's still out there and making music today, and as I write this review, is heading for Colorado (one of which I noticed is sold out, and apparently the second one is almost sold out, too). If that doesn't attest to her timelessness, then I can't say what could.
There are those who say that Rickie Lee Jones is Joni Mitchell's heir - taking her music and special style and letting it grow and adapt as she herself grows as an artist. If that means that this album is like Joni's debut album "Blue" then I have to say they're probably right - both this and "Blue" have aged beautifully and younger listeners can appreciate these today no less than we did when they were first released - much like Carole King's "Tapestry". What's more, Rickie, like Joni, is uncompromisingly original, and seems to continue to discover herself - which is a huge compliment (say, who wants to hear the same thing over and over again on every album). If I was to compare her to a female singer-songwriter today, I'd probably say that KT Tunstall is picking up this torch and taking it in her own direction.
In conclusion, if you want to discover a truly amazing female singer-songwriter and an accomplished musical artist, certainly Rickie Lee Jones' first self-entitled album is an excellent introduction to her expertise. It will give you a true rush, bring you to musical highs, chill you out and then put you on an emotional roller-coaster and I assure you, you'll enjoy every minute of the ride. A full five stars and I couldn't recommend it more highly.
Thanks for reading.
Davida Chazan © December 2006
Available via Amazon.co.uk for £10.49 or via the marketplace from £3.00
Audio CD (1 Oct 1999)
Number of Discs: 1
To read more about Rickie Lee Jones you can visit her official web page at http://rickieleejones.com/
Chuck E's In Love
On Saturday Afternoons In 1963
The Last Chance Texaco
Danny's All-Star Joint
Weasel And The White Boys Cool
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 On Saturday Afternoons In 1963
2 Night Train
3 Young Blood
4 Easy Money
5 Last Chance Texaco
6 Danny's All Star Joint
8 Weasel And The White Boy's Cool
10 After Hours (12 Bars Past Midnight)
11 Chuck E's In Love